Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is sure to be watching Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) closely on June 20 and June 21 as the Chinese e-commerce giant holds a conference for 3,000 entrepreneurs in Detroit to explain how easy it is to start selling goods on its platform.
The small-business leaders gathering from 48 states this week are sure to be paying close attention too, considering China surpassed the U.S. in the past year to become the largest retail market in the world. The Chinese retail market is a $4.89 trillion opportunity, versus the U.S.'s $4.82 trillion, according to eMarketer.
Alibaba cofounder and vice chairman Joe Tsai said the conference is an important step for the company.
"This is very meaningful for us because it really goes to how we all started," he said. "We have a mission to make it easy to do business anywhere, and embedded in that mission is for us to help small businesses."
The conference begins Tuesday with talk show host Charlie Rose interviewing Alibaba cofounder and executive chairman Jack Ma. On Wednesday, Ma will give a more formal keyote address to attendees. Both events can be viewed live on the Facebook page for Alizila, Alibaba's news site.
Ma has a special interest in signing up U.S. sellers because he made a promise in January to create 1 million jobs in the U.S. If sellers start doing business in China, they will naturally need to hire additional help.
"The Chinese market presents tremendous opportunities for U.S. small businesses and farmers to grow their businesses and, in turn, create more U.S. jobs," Ma wrote in a blog post about the event.
The two-day conference will include opening remarks from Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Attendees will learn about "Exporting the Martha Stewart Lifestyle" with Stewart herself, as well as about "Growing Global" with United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) CEO and chairman David Abney and "How to Turn Your Business Into a Thriving Enterprise" with Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC's "The Profit" reality TV show, which gives struggling small businesses a face lift.
Alibaba's target audience falls into three main groups: small businesses, entrepreneurs and farmers. Tsai said he wants all three groups to know how big the opportunity is in China and how easy it is to start selling in the country. This is important considering China is often considered a difficult market to break into due to strict regulations that have forced Netflix Inc. (NFLX) to license its content to Alibaba, Tencent Holdings Ltd. (TCEHY) and Baidu Inc. (BIDU) rather than enter the market alone.